Impacting Lives

Fiona Brabazon, PhD
Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News April 2017

From brain interface machines to body composition, PVA's Research Foundation grants are helping to change lives and build a brighter future for veterans and everyone with SCI/D.

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Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) holds research as a cornerstone of its mission.

Through the PVA Research Foundation, cutting-edge research is funded in the areas of basic science, clinical applications, design and development of assistive devices and post-doctoral fellowships. The fellowships are especially significant, offering funding to bring new scientists into the field of spinal-cord injury (SCI) research and treatment. These efforts promote research that will benefit all veterans and others living with spinal-cord injuries and diseases. From bridging spinal-cord pathways to developing technology to improve hand function, the PVA Research Foundation grant projects impact lives. Funding for this innovative grant program comes from PVA chapters, members, family members and others who want to improve the lives of paralyzed veterans and their families.

This year, PVA has awarded five Research Foundation grants totaling almost $650,000 in three areas.

Basic Science

Eftekhar Eftekharpour, PhD  

University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Increasing Neuroprotection and Regeneration after Spinal Cord Injury

$150,000, two years

SCI remains a devastating condition with enormous emotional cost for the patients and their families. Irreversible loss of nerve cells after injury leads to permanent loss of function. Prevention of cell death and finding new ways to stimulate the repair system by neural stem cells are highly sought-after research strategies that can potentially lead to new therapies. There are currently no standard treatments for the patients.  This research is focused on regulation of free radicals that control neural cell death. The study is specifically interested in novel treatments that can be delivered to the injured spinal cord very quickly after injury. A novel protein delivery system developed at the University of Manitoba has shown promising results for cell death prevention. Interestingly, this treatment can also stimulate the spinal-cord stem cells. Using the funds from PVA, this research will investigate the potential therapeutic value of this particular approach. 

Shawn Frost, PhD

University of Kansas Medical Center Research Institute

Electronic Aid to Bridge Damaged Spinal Cord Pathways

$150,000, two years

To bring the ultimate goal of developing a brain-machine-spinal-cord interface (BMSI) device for functional recovery after SCI to fruition, this project will establish the appropriate parameters for stimulating the spinal cord and increasing synaptic efficacy using brain activity after SCI. A BMSI can be beneficial in two ways: as a direct stimulator of motor neurons that mediate movement of the hindlimbs and as a tool to enhance the efficacy of intact descending or local pathways that can mediate hindlimb movement after injury via activity dependent stimulation (ADS). The central hypothesis of this study is that ADS may result in enhanced motor recovery by strengthening spared descending pathways from the brain to the spinal cord. ADS can enhance voluntary control of movement post-injury and augment concomitant physical/occupational therapy. The goal is to show how ADS can be used to both bypass an injury and promote recovery.

Clinical Applications

Brooks Wingo, PhD

University of Alabama

Validation of Segmental Body Composition for SCI

$149,988, two years

Obesity after SCI increases the risk of developing chronic conditions, complicates secondary conditions, impairs mobility and increases rehospitalization. One barrier to early treatment of obesity after SCI is a lack of accurate methods of measuring body composition (i.e. body fat, lean mass and fluids) in individuals with SCI. One common method for estimating body composition is bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA), which estimates body composition using a small undetectable electrical current passed through the body, but this has not been validated for use in individuals with SCI. The purpose of this study is to develop BIA methods for estimating body composition in adults with chronic SCI. Completion of this study will result in a validated method of assessing body composition in adults with SCI, allowing for a low-cost, fast, noninvasive method of estimating weight-related health risk in hospitals, outpatient clinics and community fitness facilities.


Fiona Brabazon, PhD

University of Louisville

Cardiovascular Dysfunction 
after Incomplete SCI in the 
Adult Rat

$100,000, two years

SCI is a serious public health concern, and the number of veterans living with SCI has significantly increased in recent years. The most obvious deficit associated with SCI is paralysis, but SCI results in a number of secondary and serious long-term health problems that are significantly understudied. These secondary outcomes include persistent cardiovascular (CV) dysfunction and autonomic dysreflexia (AD). AD is a life-threatening event that results from an imbalance in the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. These deficits interfere with overall quality of life and training intervention. This research will examine how reduced activity after high-level contusion SCI directly influences cardiovascular remodeling and the frequency and severity of AD. This study will also help identify which exercise paradigms are most appropriate for the prevention and treatment of CV dysfunction associated with SCI.  

Cheng-Shiu Chung, PhD

University of Pittsburgh

Development of Enhanced Prehension for Assistive Robotic Manipulators

$99,960, two years

More than 19 million Americans, including veterans and people with spinal-cord injuries and disease (SCI/D), have difficulties with daily activities related to upper extremity functioning, including reaching, grasping and lifting. There is a persistent demand for assistive robotic manipulators (ARMs), which provide manipulation assistance, enhance independence and improve quality of life for people with SCI/D. However, current commercial ARMs are limited to fulfill the complex prehensile patterns of daily manipulation needs at home and in the community, which results in compromised task performance. This proposed research aims to provide people with SCI/D prehension enhanced performance with both stronger and more precise ARM assistance to further increase their independence and quality of life. This research looks to substantially improve the functionality and performance in real-life ARM manipulation, as well as make an important positive impact on autonomous functions, rehabilitation robotics and design of the next generation of ARMs.

Cheryl Vines is PVA’s director of Research & Education for the Medical Services Department.


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